Monitor spider webs or the health of trees in citizen science projects


Flanders’ innovation minister has provided subsidies to seven projects dependent on local residents to move research forward

‘Too many trees, too few scientists’

Innovation minister Philippe Muyters has chosen seven citizen science projects out of 50 entries to award funding. Citizen science involves research projects that cannot be carried out in a lab or by scientists alone and require the help of the broader public.

“The days that science and research were carried out behind closed doors is over,” said Muyters. “Citizen science gives scientists access to hundreds of helping hands, eyes and ears. That makes research possible that scientists alone could never carry out.”

Funding of up to €150,000 is available to each of seven projects chosen by the cabinet. Several of the winning projects involve insects, while others are concerned with trees, plants and air quality. These subjects are related as climate change and fine particles can have a dire effect on flora and fauna. Only one project focuses on something outside of those topics: Retina images in diabetes research.


The study Spin-City, conducted by Ghent University, will have residents checking on the colour of spiders as well as their webs. “Spiders can regulate their temperature in response to environmental changes by changing their colour,” say the researchers in a statement, “and they have one of the most intriguing behaviours in the animal kingdom: They spin webs. Spin-City will use spiders as a natural barometer to study two crucial phenomena: the temperature – via their colour – and the size of the population – via their webs.”

Another study, Knappe k(n)oppen, will see Antwerp University researchers checking in with citizen scientists across Flanders who volunteer to carry out daily tests on a tree. The tests are simple, but the collective data will show the researchers how trees are faring as seasonal periods alter. The ultimate goal is to discover if the trees will survive warmer temperatures brought on by climate change.

“Citizen science closes the gap between scientists and citizens,” said Muyters, “creating more public support for science, technology and innovation.”

The citizen science project is one of a number of efforts being made by Muyters’ cabinet to increase public awareness and interest in the sciences. Last month, his cabinet launched the Question for Science initiative.

Anyone wanting to take part in citizen science projects is asked to contact the university or research centre heading up each project.

Photo: Stephen C Dickson/Wikipedia